Sunday Meditation: Monsters Soon On The Rise?
I believe it is high time developers unleashed the full potential of monsters.
For a time now the height of our gaming experiences has been put into shooters. The main purpose of these shooters seems to be, well shooting people. Sometimes they are poorly armored, others have armor, there are tank like men with shields, and there are men in giant mechanical suits. It's the same formula in every game. Occasionally there are supernatural elements introduced to the shooting of people as was the case in Uncharted, Metro: Last Light, anything with zombies, and the odd biological experiment motif.
Action and RPG games all tend to have the same stock set of creatures to hunt down and most of them fall into the category of standard archetypes which no longer make the impression of fear and horror that monsters are supposed to. This is because monsters aren't the focus of the game and aren't given great design thought. JRPGs were always known for all the great monsters out in the fields and imaginative bosses but the days of their popularity is at an end. Survival Horror games no longer have scenes lingering on the terrifically awful experience of the impact that being face to face with a monster brings. They instead throw you into the action, let you shoot something or another, avoid a mental patient or two, and then move you forward.
What happens in art is usually a reflection of the times. In the years since the global financial meltdown and even back to the beginning of the two major America wars society has undergone much change. People became divided and angry at each other, trying to put the blame somewhere. So while others began setting up militias and grief-focused movements, in our entertainment we went for killing other people or uninspired creatures that stand in metaphorically for groups of people. Aliens and robots are no exception, they tend to represent groups and ideals that a resistance must fight. I have a feeling things might change soon.
It looks like there may be a potential rise in jump-in jump-out multiplayer games. As you know, Evolve is on the way. It will feature human players trying to take down a giant monster which is played by another gamer. Sounds like a great opportunity to make some real monster designs that create awesome tension. The Order: 1886 is getting beat up a bit in the press but I still think it will surprise everyone, and what brings horror about better than a gloomy London atmosphere in which an ancient order is tasked with eliminating a werewolf outbreak. Scary werewolves haven't been seen in awhile, but the transformation of man to monster is nicely put in The Wolf Among us.
There's a theory about monsters that says vampires are popular during a recession and Frankenstein is popular during a successful economy (which would explain Twilight and True Blood). Frankenstein's monster is the penultimate creature that gave birth to all modern interpretations of monsters. The stock market is the highest it has ever been in history and the jobs reports are good and getting better. People are probably getting less angry with each other and having issues that can't be easily blamed on others. We could be more willing to accept bigger challenges that the 21st century brings. When we are doing well and working together we feel like we can take on anything, and that's when the monsters of popular psyche will make their way back into games with a vengeance. Monsters come into fiction to remind us of our place in the world, and we need a reminder.
Aside from The Order and Evolve, The Evil Within gives us the hope of some genuine monsters, Dragon Age: Inquisition has a chance to change the focus away from the cultural disputes in Dragon Age II, and I'm beginning to wonder if the hunting in Far Cry 4 may synchronize with the Himalayan setting to bring us a Yeti, Doom 4 will have a chance to scare us again with, and no serious person alive would compare the clickers in The Last of Us to any regular old zombie.
I hope the monsters do come, and in droves. I'm getting tired of killing people. I want a bigger challenge, something from the depths of Hell or the realms unknown. Something that isn't just a human character in another form. In video games we live out the anxieties of our time expressed through the art of the folks who craft our entertainment. Today I think we must collectively confront many more unknowns both in society and our imaginations as we see the world lulled to sleep by mobile devices, mood altering drugs, false news reports, and a lack of connection to the physical world.
In that space actual people are scarce; it is a dark and lonely place that monsters arise from.
7/5/2014 David D. Nelson